Thursday at the 2015 ACDA National Conference held a spectacular performance by the Estonian Philharmonic Choir along with the Tallin Chamber Orchestra, both founded and directed by Tonu Kaljuste.
The choir consists of about 24 fully professional singers, while the orchestra is made up of about 22 string players. This is one of the absolute premiere choirs in the world, and their performance was intense, full of power yet also with amazing nuances. The pieces performed were:
Adam’s Lament by Arvo Part
Carlo by Brett Dean
Concerto per vocci e instrumenti
(plus a simple encore)
The centerpiece was “Carlo” by Australian composer/concert violist Brett Dean. This was powerful music, shifting from moments of sublime beauty to gut-wrenching dissonances, all reflecting the life of the Italian madrigalist Carlo Gesualdo. The choir and string orchestra created dynamics from pppp to ffff and the music constantly shifted in direction, yet all the while creating its own logic over the arc of the composition. This performance was one of the highlights of the entire conference.
Check out this interview with Dean (OMG, he’s not a hot thirty years old. Why are we in America, including the choral arts lately, suffering from what I call the American Idol Syndrome? Here you better be young and pretty to get any attention as an instrumentalist, composer, etc.
Here is Dean talking about the piece:
Historians to the present day still seem undecided as to the true merits of Gesualdo the composer, unable to separate the characteristics of his compositions, with their harmonic extremities and surprises and their textural complexities, from the infamy of Gesualdo the murderer. There are, no doubt, numerous contemporaries of his whose music would be just as worthy of the kind of attention now given to Gesualdo, composers such as Marenzio and Luzzaschi who didn’t fan the flame by butchering their spouses. But I believe that with Carlo Gesualdo one shouldn’t try to separate his music from his life and times. They are intrinsically interrelated. The texts of his later madrigals, thought to be written by Gesualdo himself, abound with references to love, death, guilt and self-pity. Combine this with the fact that I’ve always found Gesualdo’s vocal works in any case to be one of music’s great and most fascinating listening experiences and you have the premise of my piece.
The Part was Part- a nice setup to go into the Dean.
The third piece on the program was a Swingle Singers-ish bit of light fluff. The musicians had a lot of fun with this small plate of tiramisu and the audience dug it.
At the finish the performers were rewarded with a thunderous standing ovation full of shouts and whistles. They rewarded us with an encore–a sweet, little Estonian lullaby. This simple, minimalist tune was a real ear-worm. The lullaby simply faded away into silence as the lil baby fell asleep, Kaljuste grinning knowingly to the audience.
Kaljuste is a masterful conductor, and his sly sense of humor appeared again at the end when he had the choir bow, the strings bow, and he himself bowed, of course. Then as the applause kept going forever he even lifted the scores from his podium and had them bow to the audience– this was greeted with a big chuckle from the audience. I could listen to these folks FOREVER. Whoever within ACDA desired to get this group here and make it happen for ACDA is a genius- congrats!